Principles of Good Governance in Islam

Good Governance Early Muslim Style
By Patricia Lee Sharpe, Whirled View,  06 September 2010

This piece, which I posted to counter anti-Muslim hysteria during the Bush administration, is probably even more relevant today, when political convenience and ignorance are combining to create a toxic environment for Muslims in America.

Ali bin Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, wrote a long letter of guidance after appointing Maalik al-Ashtar to be Governor of Egypt. He advises the new governor that his administration will succeed only if he governs with concern for justice, equity, probity and the prosperity of all.

The passages excerpted below illustrate the timeless applicability of Hazrat/Imam* Ali’s admonitions. The letter itself is contained in the Nahjal Balaagha, which is a collection of the letters and speeches of the fourth Caliph.

Manifest religious tolerance: Amongst your subjects there are two kinds of people: those who have the same religion as you [and] are brothers to you, and those who have religions other than yours, [who] are human beings like you. Men of either category suffer from the same weaknesses and disabilities that human beings are inclined to; they commit sins, indulge in vices either intentionally or foolishly and unintentionally without realizing the enormity of their deeds. Let your mercy and compassion come to their rescue and help in the same way and to the same extent that you expect Allah to show mercy and forgiveness to you.

Equity is best: A policy which is based on equity will be largely appreciated. Remember that the displeasure of common men, the have-nots and the depressed persons overbalances the approval of important persons, while the displeasure of a few big people will be excused...if the general public and the masses of your subjects are happy with you.

The rich always want more: They are the people who will be the worst drag upon you during your moments of peace and happiness, and the least useful to you during your hours of need and adversity. They hate justice the most. They will keep demanding more and more out of State resources and will seldom be satisfied with what they receive and will never be obliged for the favor shown to them if their demands are justifiably refused.

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